December 12 – Sanibel Historical Village volunteer Barbara Freeman spoke to a group of village volunteers about her experiences working for the firm that crafted The Sanibel Plan. “I was with Wallace, McHarg, Roberts, and Todd while the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan was in the works,” Freeman explained. In her talk, she introduced the gathering to the people behind the plan, as well as an overview of the plan itself.
“People don’t talk about The Sanibel Plan because they don’t know much about it,” Freeman said. The firm she worked for from 1972 to 1977 was renowned throughout the United States, and consisted of urban and ecological planners, landscape architects, and architects. They took an interdisciplinary approach to the Sanibel Plan, as well as to their other projects, such as master plans for Hilton Head and Amelia islands and The Woodlands in Texas. Freeman admitted she had never heard of Sanibel before WMRT began work on the plan.
The firm occupied three floors of a downtown Philadelphia office building, and Freeman was the assistant to the four managing partners. “I got to spend a lot of time with some very interesting people, and I’m still grateful for that,” she added.
The firm’s mission was “to design with nature,” an approach to environmentally sound design developed by Ian McHarg, who was known as “the Father of Modern Ecology.”
“For their initial presentation, Dave Wallace, Ian McHarg, and Bill Roberts packed their briefcases full of papers and tubes full of plans – this was before the digital age – and headed to Sanibel. They met with the town fathers and gave what they called their ‘dog and pony’ show. They must have been convincing, because they were hired,” Freeman added.
The firm’s experts in various disciplines examined all aspects of the island, from animal life to social culture. They created detailed descriptions and hand-colored maps and drafted the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. “It was a very intense process that seemed to go on for a long time,” Freeman explained. “Everyone in the firm was involved in one way or another. It was a big deal, and they cared very deeply about it. The partners met with politicians, committees, and the public; and they attended hearings. When they came back from trips, they dropped little piles of gorgeous seashells on my desk.”
Freeman said that when she first came to Sanibel in 1983, she was struck by the contrast between Sanibel and other parts of Florida she had visited. “I was impressed with the restrictions on height, density, and especially the regulations about buffer zones and native plants. People who spend time here get used to the way Sanibel is, but when you see it for the first time, it’s extraordinary,” Freeman said. “We are so lucky to live here.”
The final Sanibel Plan was approved in 1976, and it was amended five times: In 1985, 1989, 1997, 2007, and 2013. It consists of two volumes with a comprehensive Table of Contents. Volume One is 257 pages of mostly text; Volume Two is 126 pages and consists almost entirely of maps with the island divided into 36 segments such as ecological, commercial, wetlands, residential housing, etc.
“I thought it was fitting that the first prologue to the plan is an excerpt from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,” Freeman said. “That is something very special and unique to Sanibel. They knew they wanted it to be a sanctuary island.”
The plan can be viewed at www.mysanibel.com. Click on Departments, then Planning & Code Enforcement.
The historical village puts on these speaker programs for volunteers, called Volunteer Updates; they are held the first Monday of the month at the historical village. On January 7, the speaker will be Teresa Schober on the Calusa; February 4 will be Ralph and Jean Woodring; and March 4 will be Mariel Goss to speak about the formation of the shared-use paths.
The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full guided tours take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at no additional charge, depending on docent availability. The Sanibel Historical Village is located at 950 Dunlop Road (next to BIG ARTS) and there is handicap access to the buildings. Admission is $10 for adults over 18. Members and children are free. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.sanibelmuseum.org.